The Ceremony of the Keys at The Tower of London is a 700 year old tradition that takes place every night. Essentially it's locking all the doors to the Tower of London and the public are allowed to escort the warden, as long as they apply in advance.
The Ceremony of the Keys involves the formal locking of the gates at the Tower of London. As the Tower must be locked - it houses the Crown Jewels! - the Ceremony of the Keys has happened every night for around 700 years.
Literally, they never miss a night because you can't leave the door open, can you?
What Happens During The Ceremony of the Keys?
The Chief Yeoman Warder is escorted around the Tower locking all the doors until he is 'challenged' by the sentry whom he must answer before completing the task. The same wording is used every night.
Visitors are admitted to the Tower under escort at 21.30 (9.30pm) precisely. Between 40-50 visitors are admitted to watch the Ceremony of the Keys each night. (Latecomers are not admitted as there is a strict schedule.)
Every night, at exactly 21.52 (eight minutes to 10pm), the Chief Yeoman Warder of the Tower comes out of the Byward Tower, dressed in red, carrying a candle lantern in one hand and the Queen's Keys in the other hand.
He walks to Traitor's Gate to meet two/four members of the duty regiment Foot Guards who escort him throughout the ceremony. One soldier takes the lantern and they walk in step to the outer gate.
All guards and sentries on duty salute the Queen's Keys as they pass.
The Warder locks the outer gate and they walk back to lock the oak gates of the Middle and Byward Towers.
All three then return towards Traitor's Gate where a sentry awaits them.
Sentry: "Halt, who comes there?"
Chief Yeoman Warder: "The Keys!"
Sentry: "Whose Keys?"
Warder: "Queen Elizabeth's Keys."
Sentry: "Pass Queen Elizabeth's Keys and all's well."
All four men walk to the Bloody Tower archway and up towards the broadwalk steps where the main Guard is drawn up. The Chief Yeoman Warder and escort halt at the foot of the steps and the officer in charge gives the command to the Guard and escort to present arms.
The Chief Yeoman Warder moves two paces forward, raises his Tudor bonnet high in the air and calls "God preserve Queen Elizabeth." The guard answers "Amen" exactly as the clock chimes 10pm (22.00) and 'The Duty Drummer' sounds The Last Post on his bugle.
The Chief Yeoman Warder takes the keys back to the Queen's House and the Guard is dismissed.
Visitors are escorted to the exit at 22.05 (10.05pm).
I attended the Ceremony of the Keys on a dry, dark October evening. There were about 50 people in the group and the Yeoman Warder who escorted us was very theatrical and entertaining. He was strict about no photography and mobile phones off so don't forget.
As the ceremony itself is very short, he gave us a talk about the Tower of London and it's history, as well as what would happen in the ceremony, while we were waiting. We stood outside Traitor's Gate which kept us all quiet.
The 'escort' – four Foot Guards – marched into position for us and the slippery cobble stones meant one Guard went flying!
Oh dear. No-one said anything. No-one laughed. Quite frankly they have guns and we weren't going to be silly about such an accident.
Our Yeoman Warder ushered us along to see the final part of ceremony and then gave us more history about the Tower before escorting out. He was an excellent guide.
How to Apply For The Ceremony of the Keys
Tickets are free but you must book online in advance. To apply you need to include all of the names in your party. You can book for up to six in a group between 1 April and 31 October and up to 15 in a group between 1 November to 31 March inclusive.
- Bring your original ticket issued by the Tower of London.
- Latecomers will not be admitted.
- There are no toilet or refreshment facilities available.
- Photography is not permitted during any part of the ceremony.